When I asked friends about whether they get bloating during their periods, I was met with a few raised eyebrows and uncomfortable looks. It is, at least from my own personal experience, period-related bloating is something that many women still don't want to talk about. Despite the fact that a majority of women suffer from similar symptoms, we often stick to chatting about our actual period pain and not the "other stuff" that's also pretty uncomfortable (and, let's be honest, bloating can be a little embarrassing, what with the excess gas that comes with it).
The truth is that bloating is a common part of your menstrual cycle, thanks to all those hormone fluctuations (Note to self: Must remember that being a woman is really great). You don't have to resign yourself to feeling even worse during your time of the month. There are tricks out there that can help with bloating, and other aches and pains as well. Keep scrolling to find out what causes bloating during your period and what experts say you can do to ease the discomfort.
Why do I bloat during my period?
To get the answers to a few bloating-related questions, I spoke to Anna Druet, a research scientist at Clue, an app that helps you track your period. According to Druet, the reason you might end up with digestive issues (such as gas, bloating, constipation and diarrhea) around your period is due to the "hormonal chemical changes that come with your menstrual cycle. These hormonal fluctuations increase water retention, which cause symptoms of bloating."
What's causing it?
It very much so has to do with your hormones, which you can't control. Druet says that this is all due to an increase in the female sex hormone progesterone. This increase in hormones occurs after ovulation and slows contractions within the intestinal muscles, which in turn slows down digestion and causes gas retention.
Our old friend stress can also have an impact on the digestive system, which can often be a symptom of PMS and affect you during your period. This is unsurprising: Says Druet, "We tend to reach for carb-rich comfort food during this stage in the cycle, which adds to an already sluggish digestive system."
Have you heard of the gut-brain axis? Studies show there's a strong link between the emotional centers of your brain and the intestinal functions of your gut, with this connection strongly relating to stress. This means that when you're stressed, your gut acts as a huge mediator and will have you reaching for comfort foods. Instead of stress-eating on your period, incorporating a healthy alternative can actually help your uncomfortable symptoms.
What can I do to make it better?
Avoiding salty or processed foods around this time, which will contribute to water retention, can help to alleviate bloating. Yes, that means avoiding your favorite snacks when you're in need of comfort food. Sob.
Druet suggests that you try to eat protein in the form of chicken, eggs and healthy fats (such as nuts and avocados). You should also steer clear of anything too fiber-rich, as these will just contribute to gas. Of course, caffeine and alcohol are also off-limits, as caffeine is a stimulant and can upset your digestive system, while alcohol contributes to bloating.
However, if you like working out, there is good news: "One of the best things you can do to beat bloat is to indulge in light exercise," says Druet. "This can boost sluggish digestion and help clear excess gas out of the body."
Find a Routine
It always helps to have a set routine in place, especially when you know your period comes every month. We suggest indulging in comfort— and seeing as it's best to stay away from our comfort foods— take some time to care for your body before, during (when bloating is the worst), and after. Whether this means keeping track of when your period's set to arrive, preparing anti-bloating friendly recipes, or pulling out your favorite knit leggings for a walk around the neighborhood, it's all about doing your best to quell the symptoms that get you down.